Design the Outdoor Shower of Your Dreams
Get expert advice on creating an exterior bathing area at your own home.
By Carly Scholl
Indoor/outdoor living is a key element in many Valley homes, as our state’s enviable climate allows for nearly year-round enjoyment of the nature right outside our doors. And while exterior kitchens, dining areas and lounge spaces have been popular with Phoenicians for years, more and more homeowners are embracing the luxurious fun of an outdoor shower.
“Building an amenity like this is worth its weight in gold,” explains landscape designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery. “Outdoor showers are great for the whole family, especially now that so many people are spending more time at home together due to COVID-19. They can be a magical treat for adults as a place for a quick rinse after the pool or spa. And if you have children, they are perfect for keeping messes out of the house—plus, kids love the novelty of taking bath time outside.”
Location, Location, Location
When planning your exterior bathing space, placement is everything. “Traditionally outdoor showers using cold water were placed near pools as a spot to rinse off after taking a dip,” notes landscape architect Kristina Floor. “Today, these amenities are incorporating warm water and shifting locations to be closer to the master bathroom, offering a spot to refresh and rejuvenate.”
If you’re going for a spalike atmosphere, consider surrounding your shower with a destination garden that incorporates flora with color and texture, and possibly a favorite art element. “My favorite tip is to use fragrant plants, such as mint or jasmine, where the spray of water releases their delightful scent,” she suggests.
Outdoor showers have to pull double-duty in terms of durability by standing up to regular usage and the exterior elements. Choosing the right materials is crucial for creating a space that will be everlasting and efficient.
“Get creative when picking out a hard surface, and look for fun options, such as faux pebbles, flagstone or decorative tile,” Przygoda-Montgomery recommends. “While some woods, particularly teak, handle water exposure well and tend to age nicely, I find that they can often harbor scorpions and spiders between boards and underneath—the last thing you want to see when you’re enjoying a nice shower.”
Interior designer and fellow Masters of the Southwest award winner Claire Ownby emphasizes the holistic experience of an outdoor bathing area by adding various types of botanicals and organic accents. “For example, you could start with large concrete pavers under the showerhead for the main flooring material but then fill in the gaps between with Mexican beach pebbles or slate chips to allow for drainage,” she suggests. “Then surround the perimeter with multiple layers of plants and landscape lighting to create softness and intimacy.”
After you’ve selected your base finishes, fixtures are the next step. Showerheads made of metal will withstand the desert heat, and some materials, such as copper, will patina over time, resulting in a rustic, industrial look. “I like to keep the plumbing exposed because, even if you’re not running hot water to your shower, the Arizona sun shining on metal pipes
will warm up the spray a bit,” notes Przygoda-Montgomery. She also points out that drains aren’t always a necessity. “If possible, build your shower on a slight grade so the runoff goes into a plant or gravel bed.”
Now comes the fun part. Create your dream oasis with extra amenities that will cleanse, pamper and delight your senses—and perhaps dare to think outside the box with your design. “No one says you have to have a showerhead in your outdoor bathing retreat,” asserts Ownby. “Adding a tub is an unexpected and incredibly luxurious option. You could include a large basalt or resin tub and nestle it into an intimate alcove outside your master suite for an at-home spa destination.”
Whether you opt for a traditional shower or a serene soaking tub, don’t forget the essentials. “Accessorize your bathing area with a place for towels, shampoo and conditioner, preferably in a shady spot,” says Floor. “And try to find biodegradable, natural soap products with minimal chemicals, as these will cut down on staining and won’t damage surrounding flora.” Przygoda-Montgomery adds, “It’s always a good idea to make room for a little stool or bench in the shower for a surface to sit on, or as a place to put wiggly little ones while getting them clean.”
Customize your outdoor shower area with your favorite add-ons that will make your alfresco enjoyment all the more special. Ownby loves to include hidden speakers that will pipe in favorite tunes, while Floor suggests including a lounge chair nearby where you can relax in the space you’ve created even when you’re not bathing.